- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - State senators ousted Hawaii Senate President Donna Mercado Kim and replaced her with Sen. Ronald Kouchi, putting Hawaii’s neighbor islands in a more prominent role with a representative from Kauai at the helm.

The Senate passed a resolution to make the leadership change Tuesday in a rare move that usually takes place after general elections, not in the middle of a two-year legislative session. The last time Senate leadership changed mid-session was in 1993, said Carol Taniguchi, chief clerk of the Senate.

“This is very highly unusual,” Taniguchi said.

It’s also rare for a neighbor islander to lead the legislative body. The chamber is usually led by senators from Oahu, and aside from Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, who led the Senate from 2011-2012 while representing Maui, there wasn’t a neighbor islander at the helm since 1978, Tanaguchi said.

“The neighbor island senators are placed in key positions now,” said Sen. J. Kalani English, D-Maui. “Eighty percent of the population resides on Oahu, but the neighbor islands need to be considered in the equation.”

Senators were not overt about their reasons for ousting Kim, but some capitol observers concluded it may have resulted from the Senate’s rejection of Carleton Ching, Gov. David Ige’s nominee to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Many viewed the Ching nomination as a battle between environmentalists and developers, and the Senate faction Kouchi is a part of - called the Opihi group, named for the resilient sea creature - is considered more friendly to development. Most of the Chess Club faction, which Ige was a part of, did not sign the resolution.

“We are looking at what we feel is the best leadership that will take the Senate forward,” Kouchi said. “I’ve been asked to serve as the president, I’ve accepted the support of my colleagues.”

Kouchi said some committee chairmanships would change.

Republican Sen. Sam Slom said some senators may have been turned off by Kim’s tendency to show up to committee hearings and ask questions.

“I know that a lot of people have feathers ruffled because of her dogged determination to ask questions during committees, and I would hope that that process continues,” Slom said. “We need to ask more questions.”

Kim reflected on her accomplishments, including passing legislation to create a system of medical marijuana dispensaries, and said she has no regrets.

“I like to think I did the best job I could,” Kim said. “I represented my constituents proudly, and I held the government accountable. I think I’ve been true to myself.”

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